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Cold Snap Puts Freeze On Gardening

Why gardeners are more sensitive to the weather.

Cold Weather GardenYour warm and friendly Planet Natural Blogger was all smug over finishing his last post about sticking bulbs in the ground late in the fall when Mother Nature delivered a well-deserved lesson. Almost everything depends on her.

So with the surface soil frozen solid and snow covering it anyway, bulb planting season is probably over for us here in Montana and in other parts of the country as well.

The temperatures are so cold that a friend who was hoping to keep a crop of greens going in his cold frame until Thanksgiving reports that despite plenty of mulch over the greens and a tarp over the frame (securely anchored) he’s lost his crop, except for maybe the kale. Last year, he was proud to serve up fresh salad from the garden at his Thanksgiving feast.

We remember a year when it got down below zero on Halloween. Then came snow. We had intended to try and keep our carrots and parsnips in the ground as long as we could — no root cellar in our humble abode — but we got surprised by the early weather. We hadn’t yet heaped dirt around the crowns of the carrots where they were exposed and we hadn’t yet thrown down the straw. Truth be told, a lot of our garden didn’t get cleaned up that year. Many of our favorite plants, tomatoes, corn stalks, and squash vines among them, over-wintered dead-as-a-doornail until spring thaw. Only the cabbage loopers thought this was a good idea.

Surprisingly, we were able to save a lot of the crop after a break in the weather gave us the chance to dig them up. We gave people carrots for Christmas that year.

My brother in-law the farmer always said that farming hangs on the weather and that’s not been hard to see, what with the drought, hailstorms, and floods he’s suffered in the years I’ve known him. (Full disclosure: he’s also said that farming hangs on the price of gas but that’s another story.)

It’s the same for us gardeners. We know what it means to have had crops wiped out by hail and late and early freezes. Drought might not be a problem for us if we can afford the water and the city will let us use it (being on a well is a different story). But the success of our crops hinges on that balance of enough water, enough sunshine, and good growing temperatures. And this Mother Nature doesn’t always provide.

So I’ll go out on a limb here and say that gardeners, like farmers, are more attuned to the weather than their neighbors that don’t garden. We anticipate the turn from winter to spring and pay close attention to changing conditions all growing season long. We understand what will and won’t make it through the long winter and we know how to protect and nourish the things that have that chance. Even in winter, we’re concerned about moisture and we fret over heat spells as much as we do over cold snaps.

This is one of gardening’s great joys: having knowledge and sensitivity towards the weather. Sure, it ‘s one of the more aesthetic gardening rewards, usually simply defined as “getting outside,” but it also delivers the same sunny satisfaction that growing a delicious heirloom tomato delivers. Gardening engages us with our world. It establishes a relationship with living things. It provides satisfaction and comfort we wouldn’t know if we didn’t garden.

Now before I get all deep and sentimental, let me just get one more point in. Gardeners are affected by the seasons in ways that are different than non-gardeners. Winter is a relaxed time for us, when we plan and dream as we consider next year’s garden. When a good hard freeze comes, we know our work is over for the year and we occupy this down time in seed catalogs, how-to manuals, and our garden journal. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing your garden’s asleep, even if you didn’t get those last flowering bulbs in the ground.